West Coast Eagles record first away win of 2021 with 38-point victory over Hawthorn Hawks
Brendon Ah Chee needed an injury crisis to get his chance but he grabbed it with both hands today to be an unlikely spark for a depleted but resilient West Coast.
Having held onto his AFL career courtesy of a succession of one-year extensions, rookie-listed Ah Chee has been one of the last players signed by the Eagles in recent seasons on one of the lowest pay packets.
With their depth called upon on the back of injuries to 10 premiership players, Ah Chee’s career-high four goals couldn’t have come at a better time as West Coast grabbed a vital first away win for the season.
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His first senior outing of the season included some nice marks and four tackles as he staked a claim for a permanent role after being a regular last season.
Midfielders Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed and Tim Kelly led a dominant midfield effort, with Gaff and Sheed having the ball on a string for 73 disposals between them. Ball magnet Tom Mitchell had a game-high 41 touches for the Hawks to go with six clearances.
The Eagles’ 38-point win, 14.14 (98) to 8.12 (60), wasn’t often pretty but it was ultimately effective as they found, for the second week running, that the best way of protecting an undermanned backline was to not let the ball get down there.
Having won the centre clearances 14-7, West Coast’s centre-square control underpinned a 63-35 domination in inside 50 entries as they won their sixth game from their last eight starts at the MCG.
The might have had a couple of goals in the opening term but for Zac Langdon and Ah Chee being denied by centimetres, with the match remaining goalless at the first change.
Ah Chee opened the gates early in the second term, getting two in less than 30 seconds as the Eagles began to get some value for their control.
There was a variety of scoring sources, with inclusion Bailey Williams having three sets shots for the quarter, as West Coast got four in a row and seven goals to three for the term to move into pole position.
It came two weeks after their second-quarter collapse at Kardinia Park, when they coughed up 10 goals to none to a rampant Geelong.
The Eagles generally kept the foot down, dominating the contested ball fight in the second half. The smalls got involved in the third term, with Ah Chee getting his third before Jack Petruccelle and Langdon struck.
James Worpel struck a couple of nice goals late in the game to rectify some of the scoreboard damage for the Hawks, but coming on top of last week’s big western derby win, the Eagles would have been satisfied with their fortnight’s work to rectify the percentage damage the Cats caused them.
A tight calf for veteran Josh Kennedy, who kicked one goal, was the only worry for West Coast.
West Coast forward-ruck Williams make his first appearance of the season, for just his fourth game overall, and showed enough to suggest he could become a best-22 selection.
Getting his chance on the back of Nathan Vardy’s injury and the requirement for Oscar Allen to play in defence, it was an almost day for the 21-year-old.
Finishing with nine disposals and eight score involvements, Williams’ three marks inside 50 all came in the second term and he would have had a better day if he could have kicked straighter than 1.2.
With Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern likely to be available next week, the question remains whether Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling, Allen and Williams can all play in attack.
But if Williams keeps producing he might force Adam Simpson to try to make it work.
The Eagles have managed to pull their season out of the fire for the time being, steadying at 5-3 after the round six disaster at Geelong.
West Coast might be unlucky with their injury toll, but they are also lucky in the sense that their worst patch in terms of availability is coinciding with their best patch of the fixture.
The Eagles don’t meet a fellow top-eight team before their round 13 bye, beginning with next Sunday’s home assignment against Adelaide who have lost their past four.
They then take on Greater Western Sydney (Giants Stadium), Essendon (home) and Carlton (MCG).
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